MartinLogan Odyssey Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Monday, 01 September 2003

The MartinLogan Odyssey is a moderately large hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker, joining the company’s lineup between the much-respected Ascent i and Prodigy speakers. The $6,495 Odyssey features MartinLogan’s latest generation stat panel and leverage's the proprietary ForceForward™ dual woofers that originated in the Prodigies.

The Odyssey is a large speaker at 67 inches tall, 13 inches wide and 27 inches deep, weighing 105 pounds. The driver array consists of the same 48-inch electrostatic line source panel as in the Ascent “i”. The woofer section is vastly different from the Ascent and much closer to the Prodigy. The Odyssey utilizes one 10-inch and one eight-inch driver, configured in the ForceForward™ design. The Odyssey’s appearance follows the theme of other speakers in the MartinLogan line, with a wood-trimmed electrostatic panel above the black finished woofer cabinet. Like many of the speakers in the line, various wood finishes are available to fit your room decor. The one new visual detail that caught my eye is a discreetly illuminated blue “M” logo behind the electrostatic panel, a few inches from the bottom. The light is not bright enough to be a visual distraction when the room is dimmed for a movie and can be turned off with the push of a button.

The idea behind the electrostatic technology utilized in the Odyssey has been around for quite a while, and MartinLogan has been fine-tuning the concept for over 20 years now. The most notable advances include the implementation of the ForceForward™ woofers and Clear Spar technology. In the ForceForward™ design, the eight-inch driver fires forward and the phase-shifted 10-inch driver fires backwards. The effect is to produce deeper, more detailed bass. In a traditional system, the bass energy travels in all directions. The bass energy reflecting from the front wall joins the directly radiated bass energy, causing nulls and peaks, disrupting an otherwise smooth frequency response, often noted as boominess. The frequency response is said to be 35Hz to 22kHz, the same as that of the Ascent i, but in actual use, the Odysseys sound as though they delve considerably deeper in the bottom end.

The other unique new technology in the Odyssey is the ClearSpar™ system. Spars are elements that physically run horizontally across the electrostatic panel and are used to suspend the the diaphragm between the stators. My Ascents and Scenarios have older spars, which are black in color. The new spars are made of lexan (polycarbonate) and are clear. Despite the visual change, the new design is said to increase efficiency and power handling.

The Odysseys replaced the Ascents i reviewed several months back, positioned in my multi-channel room, where I did both my two-channel and multi-channel listening. The Odysseys were placed approximately six feet apart and three-and-one-half feet from the front wall, and were slightly toed in. I placed ASC’s Studio Traps behind the Odysseys, with the reflective side forward, a trick to increase the forward energy of MartinLogan speakers. To round off this system, I used MartinLogan’s Theater center channel speaker and MartinLogan Scenarios in the rear. The system was fed by Kenwood’s DV-5900M DVD-Audio player and controlled and powered by Krell’s HTS 7.1 preamp and Theater Amplifier Standard power amp, respectively.

I found that substituting the Odysseys for the Ascents also required some minor level adjustments to even out the channel levels. The set-up was quite simple, as the owner’s manual is clearly written and should prove helpful to those needing assistance. MartinLogan clients who are making a loudspeaker upgrade can feel free to rip open the boxes like it is Christmas morning.

Music and Movies
I began my two-channel listening with Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” from their Brothers in Arms CD (Warner). The famous opening riff built up beautifully with lots of detail and spaciousness, going well beyond the outside edge of the speakers and back beyond the front wall. The climax of the riff was extremely detailed and tonally accurate, conveying the sense of energy without being punchy. Listeners who desire their speakers to deliver punchy crescendos may not be pleased with electrostatic speakers, as their only real weakness is their ability to slap you in the face with energy. The Odyssey’s dynamic range is extremely good for an electrostatic speaker.

“Your Latest Trick” opens with a great saxophone piece that is extremely palpable through the Odysseys. The sonic image was that of a smaller, more intimate stage than on “Money for Nothing.” Both tracks had good sense of space and imaging.

Blues Traveler’s self-titled CD (A&M Records) is an old favorite and surprisingly well recorded. The opening track, “But Anyway,” features some great drums and unique harmonica. Having heard this band live several times, I was pleased to find the sound of the Odysseys to be specifically authentic to elements of the live show. The sense of dynamics, rhythm and timing were delightfully realistic. The Odysseys’ transparency and detail captured the grit and intimacy of the performance. I noticed the bass detail was noticeably better than that of the Ascents. The Odysseys continued to perform similarly well on the fast-paced “Dropping Some NYC,” where the immediacy and detail kept things clear and in place.

Heading back to audiophile cliché demo material, I fired up Arne Domnerus’ classic Jazz at the Pawnshop (Prophone, Gold Edition CD). The Odysseys recreated a palpable sound field with a good mix of body, imaging and detail. On “Jeep’s Blues,” the horns came alive and I felt as though I was in the middle of the club. “Take Five” features an upbeat pace of horns and drums, which were detailed and cohesive. The combination of the Odysseys and other high-end electronics had no difficulty reproducing the piece at the right scale.

I watched “Signs” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), a THX movie, with the Krell’s THX processing engaged. I found the Odysseys to perform admirably on this THX-mastered and processed movie. The conversations were intelligible and I never found myself needing to turn up the volume to make out the dialogue. During the scenes when aliens were moving around the house, the sonic clues were convincing enough to have my dog running around to see if anyone was there. The Odysseys’ detail and transparency had no problems portraying the details of the soundtrack, from low-level dialogue to subtle spatial cues that helped to place the listener in the movie’s environment.

I watched one of my favorite cops-and-robbers movies, “Heat” (Warner Home Video), to test the speakers’ dynamic range. The robbery scene at the beginning of the movie features an explosion ripping off the roof of an armored car. While the explosion itself was slightly muted, an effect that I believe the sound engineer desired, I heard lots of detail as the explosion slowly unfolded. As the ambulance explodes at the end of the scene, I could hear the glass landing well beyond the outside edges of the speakers. The bank robbery features one of the best shootouts of modern memory. The scene lacked some of the dynamic punch that can be had with large traditional speakers such as Wilson or Klipsch, but otherwise portrayed the sonic cues with great detail. This is a sonically complex scene, with different types of weapons being fired in and from all directions. Despite the complexity, the Odysseys were never congested or unable to deliver great amounts of detail.

Wanting to test the Odysseys’ bass response on a surround sound musical title, I spun up Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth (DTS 5.1 CD). The track “I’ve Been to Memphis” has a lot of deeply musical and detailed bass on an intimate stage, with solid placement of the instruments and vocals. The audiophile standard “Church” track had even more bass energy and remained articulate. The extension and detail of the bass exceeded the Ascents’ by leaps and bounds. I found myself truly enjoying the Odyssey speakers for their extreme clarity and precision.

I then listened to Queen’s A Night at the Opera (DVD-Audio, DTS). The track “The Prophet’s Song” has a chorus which fades in and out between channels. The transitions were smooth and intelligible. The sound seemed to be surrounding me. Later the guitars broke in and were quite dynamic and muscular without being overwhelming. The level of detail remained extremely high on this DVD-Audio disc at all volume levels. High volume was not necessary to get the speakers to come alive. I had impressed with the Ascents’ ability to portray a large, deep soundstage with admirable bass, and the Odysseys exceeded the Ascents in this capacity. I found the Odysseys had a touch more clarity in the lower midrange and the bass was more detailed, less boomy and seemed to extend deeper.

The Downside
The Odysseys are large but, unlike many large high-end conventional speakers, they don’t have all of the dynamic punch of boxed speakers. This has always been a trade-off for those who invest in electrostatic speakers. Because of the low mass of the panels, electrostatics deliver detail, transparency and agility that no conventional speaker can dream of. On the other hand, electrostats are simply not able to move the air masses as the conventional drivers can. In their defense, MartinLogan has done an impressive job, especially recently, in dealing with the physical shortcomings of electrostatic technology in order to move their speakers closer to the realm of have-your-cake-and-eat-it.

Electrostatic speakers, due to their radiation pattern, also require careful room placement, even more so than a conventional speaker design. The combination of the Odyssey’s large size and placement requirements can cause problems with any roommates, partners or spouses that are insensitive to the concept of speaker placement driving a room’s décor. I personally find MartinLogans to be so attractive that this isn’t even slightly an issue for me. My girlfriend’s opinion differs, however, so it is worthy of mention. Lastly, MartinLogan’s design requires that you leave the speakers plugged in. The speakers do not draw much power in standby mode, but do require that you have outlets available and could require that power cords be visible. A good decorator can make both speaker and power cables disappear in most cases without too much cost or effort.

With the Odyssey speakers, MartinLogan again ups the ante in the world of high-end speakers. The Odysseys supply incredible value and perform above their price. Sure, there are some considerations before you take the plunge, because these speakers simply aren’t for everyone. Depending on your music and movie tastes, there is no speaker in this class that can match the detail and air that the Odysseys provide. Those who are diehard AC-DC fans might be disappointed with the Odysseys’ level of dynamic impact, but those into acoustic music or subtle motion picture dialogue might find no more exciting speaker on the market today.

I found the Odysseys to be well-suited for both music and theater. Listeners desiring accurate, neutral and detailed speakers that are linear at a wide range of volumes would do well to audition the Odysseys for their theater or stereo system. Those who decide to purchase the Odysseys will need to make sure their electronics are up to par in order to get the most out of these speakers. The Odysseys are transparent enough to request topnotch electronics, require a good deal of power to come alive and, as noted above, careful placement is necessary to achieve maximum performance.

All in all, the Odysseys are a treat. Most listeners will find the MartinLogan Odyssey to be the speaker that they have dreamed of their entire life. Once you hear the Odysseys, you will likely consider them much like a new eyeglass prescription – vision clearer than ever before.
Manufacturer MartinLogan
Model Odyssey Loudspeakers
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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